US of­fi­cials ‘fear bio-ter­ror’ from In­dia

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI: US of­fi­cials fear lax se­cu­rity at In­dian lab­o­ra­to­ries could make the fa­cil­i­ties tar­gets for ter­ror­ists seek­ing bi­o­log­i­cal weapons to launch attacks across the globe, ac­cord­ing to com­ments in a leaked US diplo­matic cable made pub­lic yes­ter­day.

The cable was part of a trove of doc­u­ments sent from the US Em­bassy in New Delhi that was ob­tained by the se­cret-spilling web­site Wik­iLeaks and pub­lished yes­ter­day by the Bri­tish news­pa­per The Guardian.

The ca­bles dealt with ac­cu­sa­tions of In­dian tor­ture in Kash­mir and the con­cerns of Rahul Gandhi – seen as In­dia’s prime-min­is­ter-in-wait­ing – that Hindu ex­trem­ists pose a greater dan­ger to In­dia than Is­lamist mil­i­tants.

One of the ca­bles from June 2006 raised con­cerns that ter­ror­ist groups could take ad­van­tage of weak se­cu­rity at In­dian lab­o­ra­to­ries to steal “bac­te­ria, par­a­sites, viruses or tox­ins”.

“Get­ting into a fa­cil­ity to ob­tain lethal bio-agents is not very dif­fi­cult here,” one ex­pert, whose name was redacted from the cable, told US di­plo­mats.

A sec­ond ex­pert said that aca­demic re­search fa­cil­i­ties main­tain only very loose se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures. “The harsh re­al­ity is that with a pack of cig­a­rettes you can bribe a guard to get in­side.”

One source told the di­plo­mats that In­dia’s thou­sands of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­en­tists also might be re­cruited, ei­ther out of ide­o­log­i­cal sym­pa­thies or for money.

An In­dian govern­ment of­fi­cial, who spoke only on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rised to pub­licly ad­dress the is­sue, dis­missed the con­cerns as “far­fetched and fan­ci­ful”.

How­ever, Su­man Sa­hai, a biotech­nol­ogy ex­pert, said that four years af­ter the cable was writ­ten, se­cu­rity re­mained very poor at biotech firms.

While In­dia has not been the tar­get of a bi­o­log­i­cal at­tack, it has suf­fered dev­as­tat­ing con­ven­tional ter­ror strikes, in­clud­ing a 2001 at­tack on its par­lia­ment and the 2008 at­tack by 10 Pak­istan-based mil­i­tants on the city of Mum­bai for 60 hours.

In­dian of­fi­cials made it clear in the cable that they were fo­cus­ing more on a pos­si­ble nu­clear or chem­i­cal at­tack – pre­sum­ably from long­time ri­val Pak­istan – than a bi­o­log­i­cal one.

While many other coun­tries are also poorly pre­pared for bio-ter­ror, the cable said, “few live in the kind of dan­ger­ous neigh­bour­hood that In­dia does, where ter­ror­ism, lax se­cu­rity, petty cor­rup­tion, high pop­u­la­tion den­sity, weak pub­lic health… and a boom­ing and so­phis­ti­cated biotech

An ex­pert said: ‘The re­al­ity is that with a pack of cig­a­rettes you can bribe a guard to get in­side a re­search fa­cil­ity’

in­dus­try co­ex­ist.”

An­other cable de­tailed a con­fi­den­tial 2005 brief­ing by the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross that ac­cused In­dia of the wide­spread use of tor­ture in Kash­mir.

The Red Cross said it had in­ter­viewed 1 491 de­tainees be­tween 2002 and 2004 and found that many had been beaten, hung from the ceil­ing, put in stress po­si­tions, sex­u­ally abused or tor­tured with elec­tric­ity, wa­ter or a round metal ob­ject called “the roller” used to crush a per­son’s thighs, the cable said.

The Red Cross had raised the is­sues with In­dia for a decade and the con­tin­u­a­tion of the prac­tice led the agency to be­lieve the govern­ment con­doned the tor­ture, it said.

In re­sponse to the ac­cu­sa­tion, In­dian For­eign Min­istry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said yes­ter­day: “In­dia is an open and demo­cratic nation which ad­heres to the rule of law. If and when an aber­ra­tion oc­curs, it is promptly and firmly dealt with un­der ex­ist­ing le­gal mech­a­nisms in an ef­fec­tive and trans­par­ent man­ner.” – Sapa-AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.